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Far + Wide: Networking and Social Media - Part 4.

While Parts One and Two of this blog focused on face-to-face networking, Parts Three and Four focus on the profile-picture-to-profile-picture networking beast that is social media….

What social media does best of all is connect people and bring them together into networks – the only surefire way of reaching a bunch of your target audience in one hit. Social media was, in fact, born out of a need for connection in today’s busy and hectic world. It has enabled people to connect in a way we couldn’t have dreamt of back in the day when computers were used for spreadsheets, letters to the bank and Pacman.

Social media means we don’t have to meet or talk to people: we can invite, engage, discuss and influence in less time than it takes to make a cuppa.

Not that we shouldn’t be talking to or meeting people: very few game changing deals are done over social media. But it opens doors and enables us to brainstorm ideas and connect with peers in a way most people enjoy doing. As Director of Leicester Print Workshop Lucy Phillips puts perfectly:

“Social media facilitates networking, allows for ideas to be generated and spread within established networks and allows for the promotion and development of new and existing networks.”

Always consider which social media platform suits your business and brand best. Just because it’s a cultural phenomenon or you use it personally, it doesn’t mean it’s relevant to your target market. Do your research – what are your target market using social media for? Joanne Lloyd of branding and website design company A Dozen Eggs is a big advocate of choosing your social media platforms with care.

It’s important to choose a social media channel that is appropriate for you, your business and, most importantly, your intended audience,”

she advises. “ If you’re constantly creating, making and designing then Instagram might be perfect for you, especially if you have a client base interested in that personal side of the creative process.  However if you’re the type of person who isn’t likely to keep on top of half a dozen Twitter updates a day, another platform might be better.”

Why might your target market use social media? It’s usually either for fun or convenience. Founder of dance company Turned On Its Head, Liz Clark finds social media an important tool to engage with her audience – time strapped parents – quickly and purposefully. “For us social media plays a very important part, as our audiences are often time-strapped parents, so

our on-line forums provide them with a way to engage with us in their own time and on their own terms,”

she explains.  “We’re looking into crowd funding next year and a good following on Twitter will enable us to reach more potential backers.”

Reaching potential backers, collaborators and communities is something Marie Lefebvre of Footpaths , a community based project which provides the platforms and tools for people to reduce their carbon footprint and lead a more sustainable lifestyle, has used social media for to great effect. She used both Facebook and Twitter as a tool to contact specific community networks who’d be interested in their work, a strategy which costs nothing but time and effort. “We work on a very tight budget, so any networks that can be leveraged is important for Footpaths’ message to go across boundaries,” she explains.

“We strove to get in touch with as many communities groups as we could and ask them if they would be willing to distribute our full program to their networks.

It allowed us to have an idea of the numbers of programmes to be printed and a feel for the reach we could have across Leicestershire.” Using social media as a research tool in this way is bread and butter stuff for marketers, ultimately informing decisions about the volume of marketing materials to prepare and the geographical reach of your work.

Although it’s obviously important to engage with online networks, it’s equally important not to miss a trick here – more specifically, can you host a network yourself? Hosting networks which discuss the field in which you work establishes authority and credibility, putting you in the driving seat of directly engaging with your audience. A perfect example of this comes from Turned On Its Head. “We host an Early Years Dance network on Facebook, where artists can share ideas, opportunities and ask questions,” explains Liz. “I try to post new information on there every week so that people feel they have lots of content to discuss.” This is utilising social media at its best, bringing people together with a shared interest, while creating and nurturing a captive audience for your work at the same time.

It all comes back to that content – if it’s engaging, useful and entertaining enough, your followers will be out there on your behalf, spreading it far and wide.

Amy Christer, Theatre Programmer and Producer at Leicester’s The Y Theatre finds exactly this with those involved in the theatre’s many projects, such as festival 14:48. “Social media plays a huge part. We find so many of our 14/48 participants promote the event and other events at The Y without us even having to ask,” she says. 14/48 in a case in point – the bringing together of artists from writers, actors, directors and musicians to technicians, project managers, photographers and set designers for 48 hours of ferocious networking and showcasing of their talents.  I myself have taken part and the bug was infectious: not a huge Tweeter myself, I was immersed in the Twitter banter (let’s call it Twanter. No?), as everyone shared their highs and lows with a combined following of maybe several hundred thousand. I Tweeted. I retweeted. And no-one ever asked any of us to do it. That’s when social media networking comes into its own – a shared experience that opens doors and connects you with all the other artists doing what you do. Amy continues: “14/48 is a fantastic networking opportunity.

You never know who you will meet or what will come of networking.”

Endless Twanter probably.

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